Hot wasabi: Popular condiment has health benefits : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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April 9, 2001 Web posted at: 12:03 PM EDT (1603 GMT)

Popularity somewhat recent

Challenge from imports

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TOKYO, Japan -- Next time you try a dab of that green stuff with your sushi, you might be boosting your health while teasing your taste buds.Studies suggest wasabi, the spicy green relish that often accompanies Japanese food, may have a variety of medicinal benefits.

"Wasabi is a very effective natural germicide agent," said Toshio Iiyama, head of the Wasabi Experimental Research Station in the Shizuoka prefecture, south of Tokyo.

In addition to fighting some bacterial infections, wasabi is known to be effective against anisakis, parasites that dwell in fish, if they enter the human digestive system. More recently, studies have found that wasabi has anti-carcinogenic elements, is good for the skin, and is even effective against thrombosis, Iiyama said. [grated wasabi] Wasabi is often grated into a fine paste using a shark's skin grater Popularity somewhat recent

Despite its Western name for Japanese horseradish, wasabi is neither horseradish nor radish. Wasabia Japonica -- its scientific name -- is related to the canola plant, and its most-used part is the thick lower stem or rhizome, often mistaken for its root.

In its most popular form, it is grated into a smooth paste with piquant aroma that stings the nose briefly before mellowing into a bittersweet aftertaste. While wasabi has been used in Japanese cuisine for more than a thousand years, only recently has it become such a popular condiment.

Wasabi gained its place in Japanese culinary history with the popularization of sushi in the late 19th century, as local merchants found that people who ate raw fish with the green paste were less likely to get sick. [wasabi research] At the Wasabi Experimental Station of Shizuoka prefecture, scientists study the beneficial properties of the plant Challenge from imports

Growing wasabi isn't easy, and at $8 a stalk, it's considered a valuable cash crop. Trees are often planted in the fields to provide a subtle amount of shade to protect the plant from direct sunlight in the summer. Recently, the Japanese crop has been threatened by cheap imports and modern food-processing methods. Farmers in Taiwan and the Philippines have latched on to the wasabi craze, and are turning over vast acreage to wasabi production at a fraction of the price.

Although their products are considered too pungent to be eaten alone, they are heavily imported by large Japanese corporations to make a mix of wasabi and other condiments, such as white radish and spices, called neri-wasabi. The market for neri-wasabi is estimated at about $16 million a year, compared to $36 million for traditional hon-nama wasabi.

As the culture of wasabi moves into the global age, its advocates hope to find both scientific and culinary breakthroughs that will allow it to beat the processed versions. A taste of the real wasabi, they believe, will change people's perception of this once-banal relish forever.

-- K (, April 10, 2001

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